(CN) – A cosmetic surgery practice may have offended a Catholic receptionist by making her wear an office version of the Ten Commandments, a federal judge ruled.
Cynthia Ambrose, a self-described devout Roman Catholic, objected when her employer of eight years, Gabay Cosmetic Surgery Center in Philadelphia, designed a new employee-identification badge that listed 10 office rules on the back under the heading “Our Ten Commandments” in April 2011.
Ambrose said the firm wrote her up and threatened to fire her after she complained that wearing the badge was “sacrilegious.”
The churchgoing mother allegedly began wearing the badge at the bottom of her shirt, as opposed to around her neck as instructed, to protect her job, but continued speaking out against the lack of religious accommodation at Gabay.
She said Gabay fired her in May 2011, less than two months after her initial objection, under the pretense that she had improperly rescheduled some patients.
Ambrose sued Gabay Ent & Associates P.C., Gabay Schwartz Ent & Associates P.C., and Raphael Gabay D.O. P.C. for violating her right to religious accommodation and firing her in retaliation for her discrimination complaint.
The cosmetic surgery practice moved to dismiss, but U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson deferred ruling on the motion earlier this year, giving Ambrose 10 days to clarify in an amended complaint how or why wearing the badge offended her religious beliefs.
In a second amended complaint, Ambrose seeks relief for religious discrimination and retaliation under both Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
The defendants once again moved to dismiss, arguing that the badge has “absolutely nothing to do with religion,” as the term “Our Ten Commandments” was used in the “vernacular sense.”
They likened requiring Ambrose to wear the badge to an employer “calling an employee ‘angel,’ describing a dessert as ‘sinful,’ or referencing another common use of the term 10 commandments, such as … the 10 commandments of fantasy football.”
Baylson would not credit, however, their claims that Title VII does not ban “common touchstones of a society that originated in the Judeo-Christian heritage.”
“Not only does defendants’ (non-religious) interpretation of the language have no relevance to plaintiff’s (religious) interpretation, but defendants’ interpretation obscures the actual basis of plaintiff’s objection,” the judge wrote last week. “As plaintiff’s revised complaint makes clear, her objection was not based on the content of the language per se, but on defendants’ requirement that she wear the language around her neck or on her chest. This is apparent by plaintiff’s allegation that she did not object to placing the list of rules somewhere in her office. Defendants miss the point, therefore, when they analogize the requirement that an employee wear a badge containing language that offends the employee’s religious beliefs with statements by the employer that do not require employees to personally identify with the statements.” (Parentheses and emphasis in original).
Gabay also lost its argument that no deeply held Roman Catholic belief forbids adherents from wearing secular guidelines titled “Our 10 Commandments.”
“By asking this court to determine if plaintiff is misreading the tenets of her Roman Catholic faith, defendants are asking this court to be an ‘arbiter of scriptural interpretation,'” Baylson wrote. “Not only is it inappropriate for a court make a factual determination in a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a scriptural determination is ‘not within the judicial function and judicial competence.'”
Ambrose’s retaliation claim also survived.
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